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Audiobooks that Make Holiday Travel (and Commutes) Bearable

If you’ve never listened to an audiobook before—we had a few virgins in the office—they are seriously rad. While audiobooks don’t replace the act of reading a book, you can’t read a book when you’re driving, running, or grocery shopping—a few situations in which an audiobook can provide much welcome entertainment. They are also ideal companions in other en-route scenarios when it can be cumbersome to juggle a book/iPad/Kindle with your travel gear, and especially if you get motion sickness when reading in a taxi/plane/train. Which isn’t to say that some purely leisure hours can’t be best spent simply listening to a really good story. Here, some of the audiobooks that stand our test of time, plus a roundup of what we love most from our recent playlists.

All-Time Great Listens

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, read by Bryan Cranston

    The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, read by Bryan Cranston

    Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston delivers a thoroughly compelling narration of this American-classic war collection. Originally published in 1990, Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece follows the men of Alpha Company through their tour of Vietnam.

  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, read by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

    Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, read by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

    Of course, there’s humor here, but Ansari’s book is actually not a comedy—and its fascinating. He worked with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg to undertake a major research project (IRL and also via an original Reddit forum) to draw a picture of modern relationships in different parts of the world. The audiobook benefits immensely, too, from his self-narration.

  • The Argonauts, written & read by Maggie Nelson

    The Argonauts, written & read by Maggie Nelson

    Self-narrated by poet and critic, Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts is in part the story of how she fell in love with artist Harry Dodge (who is fluidly gendered), and her pregnancy journey with her first child. But it’s also an intellectual love story about art and culture—the kind you listen to on an NYC subway, feeling instantly smarter, though all the while making mental notes of references you want to research later.

  • Yes Please, written and read by Amy Poehler

    Yes Please, written and read by Amy Poehler

    While the talented, hilarious Poehler reads the majority of her book, the audio version is made awesome in part by guest appearances from the likes of Carol Burnett, Seth Meyers, Michael Schur, Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner, and Poehler’s parents. Also cool: HarperAudio made a vinyl-bound edition of Yes Please (plus MP3), which makes a good holiday gift for audio buffs.

  • Holidays on Ice, written and read by David Sedaris

    Holidays on Ice, written and read by David Sedaris

    Sedaris’s sharp, wry, hilarious self-narrated audiobooks are like brain candy for your transit to/from work. This time of year, his collection of Christmas stories is most apt.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, & India Fisher

    The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, & India Fisher

    A really well-cast audio production, The Girl on a Train is read by three different female actresses who make up the dark, complex triangle of characters at the heart of Paula Hawkins’s popular thriller. If you haven’t seen the movie yet (which is based in the States as opposed to the UK like the book), listen to this first.

  • Just Mercy, written & read by Bryan Stevenson

    Just Mercy, written & read by Bryan Stevenson

    Heavy-hitting nonfiction often doesn’t translate well into audio, but Stevenson’s steady, even, inviting voice makes his award-winning book on the injustices of the American criminal justice system a truly memorable listen.

  • A Prairie Home Companion by Garrison Keillor

    A Prairie Home Companion by Garrison Keillor

    Fans of Garrison Keillor’s radio show on Minnesota Public Radio, “A Prairie Home Companion,” about the going-ons in fictional Lake Wobegon, will geek out over this anthology, a collection of Keillor’s stories told over the last quarter of the twentieth century.

  • Not That Kind of Girl written & read by Lena Dunham

    Not That Kind of Girl written & read by Lena Dunham

    GP’s interview with the enormously creative power that is Lena Dunham (and her other half, Jenni Konner), made us want to re-listen to Dunham’s 2014 collection on finding your voice.

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, read by Elijah Wood

    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, read by Elijah Wood

    Audiobooks are a nice way to brush up on your classics—or take them in for the first time. Elijah Wood’s performance of Mark Twain’s iconic characters is fabulous.

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, read by Simon Vance

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, read by Simon Vance

    At sixteen-plus hours, this is one of the longest audio books on our list. The well-known opener to Stieg Larrsson’s Lisbeth Salander series is read by the transfixing voice of Simon Vance, who narrates the rest of the books in the trilogy—as well as The Girl in the Spider’s Web.

  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale

    Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale

    The Harry Potter series will long be a go-to for family road trips. Each of the seven novels in the audio collection are read by Grammy-Award-winner Jim Dale.

  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat

    The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat

    Think of this as a guilty pleasure of sorts (albeit an innocent one): South African-born Lisette Lecat’s sing-song voice feels like a destined match for Alexander McCall Smith’s charming adventure series, starring Botswana’s “premier lady detective,” Mma Ramotswe.

  • Carsick, written & read by John Waters

    Carsick, written & read by John Waters

    Cult classic filmmaker John Waters (Hairspray, Pink Flamingo) reads his own hitchhiking memoir about an appropriately bizarre journey from Baltimore to San Francisco. It’s eight hours long, so it won’t last you on your own cross-country trek, but it is—needless to say— quality road trip material.

  • Hank the Cowdog, written & read by John R. Erickson

    Hank the Cowdog, written & read by John R. Erickson

    This one is for the kids: the Hank the Cowdog series was born in the 1980’s around the title dog, Hank, “Head of Ranch Security.” Read by the author, a former cowboy and ranch manager, Hank’s adventures feel designed to entertain littles on car rides.

New Audio Favorites

  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith, read by Pippa Bennett-Warner

    Swing Time by Zadie Smith, read by Pippa Bennett-Warner

    If you’ve never read/listened to a Zadie Smith book (NW, On Beauty, White Teeth) before, start with Swing Time. Yes, the thirteen-hour-long audiobook (read by a British actress) is car-rides-great, but this is simply one of the best books—period—of 2016.

  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, read by Kirsten Potter

    The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, read by Kirsten Potter

    For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train: The premise of The Couple Next Door is a dinner party at the next door neighbors’ that just so happens to coincide with a terrible crime. It’s twisty right up until the very last moment.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, read by Bahni Turpin

    The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, read by Bahni Turpin

    Read by Bahni Turpin (who you can also hear on the audio of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Help, among others), this is Colson Whitehead’s brilliantly imaginative—and yet viscerally real— fictionalized account of an actual, physical Underground Railroad running from the South to the North. Some passages are shattering, and difficult to listen to, but it feels so important that you do.

  • Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, read by Jorjeana Marie & Robbie Daymond

    Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, read by Jorjeana Marie & Robbie Daymond

    Many young adult books naturally lend themselves to the audio form—stories that just sound right when read aloud. This is certainly true of Jennifer Niven’s tale of Libby Strout (once mercilessly labeled “America’s Fattest Teen”) and Jack Masselin (your high school’s pretty boy with a deeper secret) and their (yes) unlikely connection.

  • The Mischling by Affinity Konar, read by Vanessa Johansson

    The Mischling by Affinity Konar, read by Vanessa Johansson

    Read by Vanessa Johansson (Scarlet’s sister, with a similarly beautiful voice), the audiobook is lovely, engaging, and inflected with piano music for effect—small, subtle touches that suit the story’s mood perfectly.

  • Hillbilly Elegy, written & ready by J. D. Vance

    Hillbilly Elegy, written & ready by J. D. Vance

    One of our top picks from Fall 2016’s nonfiction crop, J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up in a depressed Rust Belt town, in a poor, white family with Appalachian roots, feels intensely personal as an audio. And yet, the beauty of Vance’s story is really that it transcends the personal: This is a piercing examination of class and culture, and a seminal portrayal of the truths of the American Dream.

  • How to Party With an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings, read by Joy Osmanski

    How to Party With an Infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings, read by Joy Osmanski

    Loosely organized by thirty-year-old single mother Mele’s responses to a cookbook competition questionnaire, this third novel from Kaui Hart Hemmings is a welcome, witty meditation on modern motherhood. Much less somber than her debut novel, The Descendants, the audiobook clocks in at less than eight hours—which is just enough time to explore Mele’s world of privileged parenting in San Francisco.

  • Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes, read by Fiona Hardingham et al.

    Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes, read by Fiona Hardingham et al.

    Truth: We would read (or listen to) anything by Jojo Moyes. The audiobook of her mega-bestseller, Me Before You, is the rare thing that can make you wish for more traffic on your morning commute. The title novella in her newest book (a story collection this time), Paris for One, is about a British woman named Nell (who may happily remind some readers of Me Before You‘s Lou) whose planned couple getaway to Paris turns into a solo trip—until a French love interest enters. The chapters here are short, and the whole audiobook is only five hours, so you can listen in smaller bursts (and the characters grow on you quickly).

  • The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, read by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee, & Dominic Hoffman

    The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, read by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee, & Dominic Hoffman

    A 2016 National Book Award finalist—young adult novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, is the kind of sentimental story you can’t bring yourself to hit pause on. It’s told by three voices: There’s the character Natasha, a high schooler who is twelve hours away from being deported out of NYC and back to Jamaica—and who ardently does not believe in fate or love. There’s Daniel, a Korean American teen who Natasha meets on this day, and who decides to try to get Natasha to fall in love with him—Daniel uses the thirty-six questions popularized by Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love column, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” And then there’s the voice of the Universe: The omniscient perspective can feel jarring when you first hear it, but keep listening, and it turns soothing.

  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, read by Alex McKenna

    Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, read by Alex McKenna

    At the very least, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter will make you hungry. Danler’s coming-of-age novel revolves around a wide-eyed post-collegiate who waitresses at a thinly veiled version of Manhattan’s Union Square Café, which, in the novel, is a sybaritic ecosystem fueled by goblets of Barolo, fresh white truffles, and a few harder substances. The earnest, raspy narration mirrors the protagonist’s yearning for experience… and escargots.

  • The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, written & read by Amy Schumer

    The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, written & read by Amy Schumer

    There were a few fan girls at #goophq who listened to Schumer’s book when it first came out it in August. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is more performance and less confessional than a memoir—which means it’s even closer to Schumer’s signature stand-up style in audio form.

  • Faithful by Alice Hoffman, read by Amber Tamblyn

    Faithful by Alice Hoffman, read by Amber Tamblyn

    Hoffman, who has written dozens of novels, constructed her most recent one around a character named Shelby Richmond, a young Long Island woman who is suffering from tremendous survivor guilt following a tragic accident involving her dearest friend. Accordingly, the beginning of the audiobook is dark, but with Hoffman, you can expect to feel some form of redemption, and hope, as you continue listening.

  • Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, read by Norbert Leo Butz

    Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, read by Norbert Leo Butz

    Knight doesn’t narrate his memoir but Tony Award-winning actor, Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can) is a really compelling stand-in. And the story itself—the rise of Knight and Nike—is just inherently fascinating.

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, read by Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, read by Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Tolstoy’s epic tale of tragic love is one of the latest classics to be read by a beloved actress. And while it’s hard to imagine finding the time to (re)read the thousand-plus pages of the novel, Gyllenhaal’s rich, elegant voice makes a persuasive case for the thirty-five-hour audio edition.

  • The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel, read by Cassandra Campbell

    The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel, read by Cassandra Campbell

    Prolific Popular Science writer Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe was just published (December 6), and it’s an expertly written account of the women behind the Harvard College Observatory, beginning at the end of the nineteenth century, who—not surprisingly—have not previously received proper credit.

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